A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece called "The Death of the Fringe Suburb." The author, Christopher Leinberger, discusses the collapse of outer-ring suburbs and return to popularity of urban and inner-suburban housing. As a New Jersey Realtor, I feel sadness and concern about the decline of any housing market. I find it fascinating, though, that this trend--occurring in markets all over the country-- is a total reversal of the national post-WWII housing shift from cities to suburbs.
Back in the 1950s, cities emptied out as a car and a backyard came to exemplify the American dream. In succeeding decades, McMansions took root in exurbs, as homeowners sought more and more house on more and more land. According to Leinberger, demand for this type of housing has collapsed and will not recover, due to generational shifts. Baby Boomers (born from 1946-64), are retiring at exactly the same time as Millenials (born from 1979-96) are ready to strike out on their own; neither group is looking for a large house in outer suburbia. Boomers are downsizing from their suburban homes, and Millenials tend to favor urban environments, both for the cultural attractions and the convenience of not needing a car.
Leinberger cites Pasadena, CA and Bellevue, WA as examples where mixed-use developments with good public transit access have been built where strip malls once stood. He also calls for greater public investment in bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes, and pedestrian walkways. His suggestions would provide jobs and help the environment, both of which the U.S. could really use.
For those of us living in Montclair, Maplewood or South Orange, we are fortunate to have much of this infrastructure already in place. For those who are not, would you give up your 2 acres for a smaller lot and a shorter commute? Would you trade your Olive Garden for Osteria Giotto? How about your Multiplex for the Wellmont Theatre?